Editor’s Note: This post was updated June 27, 2017
When I first started working as an instructional coach, it was hard to settle into my role on the periphery of the classroom. After being a classroom teacher for many years, I was used to being in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Standing on the sidelines initially felt uncomfortable. But with time and experience I settled in.
If you’re moving from being a classroom teacher to being a coach, be prepared for some transition time. To help you ease into your new role, I asked a few instructional coaches to share their best advice.
1. Start with What You Know
Though you may be stepping into a new position, you have a wealth of experience to draw from. Autumn Bell, a math coach for Fresno Unified School District in California, says, “If I reflect on my first year of coaching, I see the close similarity to teaching a classroom of students. I plan, prepare, and guide my teachers in a similar way to what I did when teaching students.”
You are still a teacher. The only thing that’s changed is that now you are teaching teachers instead of students. The same strategies and approaches you used with students can be helpful when working with teachers. As with classroom teaching, it’s important to try ideas, gather feedback, and adjust your approach as needed. It’s a constant learning process!
2. Study Instruction
Michelle Rooks, an instructional coach for Teton County School District in Wyoming, says new coaches should start by thinking deeply about effective teaching. “I was asked to be a coach because I was a successful teacher,” Michelle says. “It wasn’t enough to share my ideas as a teacher; I had to figure out why those ideas work.”
This summer, watch Teaching Channel videos and think about what makes the strategies you see effective or not effective. Check out our Coaching Deep Dive to see how other coaches give feedback to teachers. As Michelle said, “Looking closely at teaching practices allowed me to make ideas more generalizable and more useful for a variety of teachers with a variety of teaching philosophies.”
3. Build Your Toolkit
Shelia Banks, an instructional coach for Jefferson Parish School District in Louisiana, recommends seeking mentorship from experienced coaches. Shelia says, “Experienced coaches know how to ease into a teacher’s classroom and break isolation barriers.”
In addition to learning from colleagues, you can add to your coach’s toolkit by reading books about instructional coaching. Shelia recommends books by Jim Knight, while Michelle has been inspired by Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, and The Power of Protocols by Joseph McDonald, Nancy Mohr, Alan Dichter, and Elizabeth McDonald.
4. Distinguish Instruction from Content
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to go from teaching just one grade level or subject to coaching teachers in a wide range of classes. Michelle reminds us that it’s important to distinguish instruction from content. She says, “I had to keep reminding myself the instruction was my focus and the content was the teacher’s focus. I can work on instruction regardless of the content.”
Even though a coach’s focus may be on instruction, that doesn’t mean that content has to be ignored. As Michelle says, “A perk of being a coach is that I learned so much content being in all these classrooms. I think this helped to build relationships — while they were learning instructional strategies with me, I was learning content from them!”
5. Have a Coaching Mantra
I love this suggestion from Shelia: “Keep a coaching mantra. Before leaving the classroom, write down what your goal for being a coach is. When you are deep in the work, it’s good to remember why you got into coaching in the first place.”
What will your coaching mantra be? Take time this summer to get clear on what you’d like to accomplish as a coach, then take steps towards building your coaching toolkit.
Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.